Saratoga Barn Notes: It’s Travers Week

From the Media Team at Saratoga:

  • G1 Personal Ensign contender Elate tops talented workers for Mott barn
  • Eskimo Kisses in perfect bliss following G1 Alabama victory
  • Travers filly Wonder Gadot gets morning off, returns to track Monday

With four graded stakes wins on his resume and more than $1 million in his bankroll, Robert LaPenta’s Catholic Boy is shaping up as one of the more intriguing contenders in what looks to be a wide-open Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers on Saturday at the Saratoga Race Course.

The son of More Than Ready turned in his final move on Sunday morning after the renovation break on the main track for the 1 ¼-mile race at the Spa, cruising a half-mile in 49.44 seconds, with NYRA clockers catching the gallop-out in 1:02 3/5 under Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano.

“I liked the way he worked today,” said Castellano, who holds the record for most Travers wins by a jockey with five, including Bernardini (2006), Afleet Alex (2010), Stay Thirsty (2011), V. E. Day (2014), and Keen Ice (2015).  “He’s happy. It was just a maintenance work. We’re not looking for a fancy work. Our target is next week. Two weeks before we had a real solid work. Today we were looking for something just to stretch him out before the race.”

Catholic Boy had three previous works over the main track, breezing a half-mile on July 29 in :48.68, five furlongs in a bullet :59.66 on August 6, and a half in :48.59 on August 13.

“We were doing it more for us than him,” said trainer Jonathan Thomas. “I asked Javier to let him gallop out a little piece, and he jumped right onto the bridle and showed he was there for him, and then he slowed him down a little to show he was there. It wasn’t exciting, but we weren’t looking for exciting.”

Catholic Boy, who won the Grade 1 Belmont Derby, the Grade 3 Pennine Ridge and the Grade 3 With Anticipation on the turf, has made three starts on dirt, winning the Grade 3 Remsen as a 2-year-old and finishing second in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs and fourth in the Grade 1 Florida Derby.

“Initially we ran him on the turf because it was the only opportunity to run him around two turns,” said Thomas. “After the Breeders’ Cup [fourth in the Juvenile Turf], there was nothing of note left on the turf. We thought it was a great time to try the dirt and he handled it great in the Remsen. Things didn’t work out in the Sam Davis and he [bled] in the Florida Derby, so you have to draw a line through that.”

This will be the first Travers starter for Thomas, 38, who was an assistant to Todd Pletcher before going out on his own.

“We bought this horse as a yearling, broke him, so he’s got a special place on our team,” he said. “He’s a 3-year-old, but we have people who’ve literally been around him for 2 ½ years. Win, lose, or draw, we’ve very proud of him and what he means to us.”

G1 Personal Ensign contender Elate tops talented workers for Mott barn

On a day Bill Mott announced that Curlin winner Hofburg won’t run in the Travers, the Hall of Fame trainer watched Elate put in her final workout before Saturday’s Grade 1, $700,000 Personal Ensign at Saratoga.

Elate covered four furlongs in 49.60 seconds over the Oklahoma training track on a cool, sunny Sunday morning.

“She just needed a little blowout, and that’s what we got,’’ said Mott. “I think 49 for her over this track and a nice five-eighths gallop-out in 1:02 is enough to maintain fitness and keep her sharp enough for the race. And it’s not too fast, because you don’t want to leave their race out there in the morning.’’

Elate, coming into the Personal Ensign off an impressive win in the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap after an eight-month break, will be taking on Grade 1 Ogden Phipps winner Abel Tasman. The Bob Baffert-trained filly worked five furlongs in 1:01 at Del Mar on Sunday morning.

Other Mott workers on Sunday included Grade 1 Sword Dancer hopeful Channel Maker (four furlongs, :48.97) and Mucho (four furlongs, :48.87), who is on schedule for the Grade 1 Hopeful on September 3.

“They both worked really well,’’ said Mott.

Hofburg, who won the Curlin in his last start, spiked a fever and was off the training list the last two days, leading Mott to make the decision not to run.

“We’re not going to force ourselves into the Travers,’’ he said.

Eskimo Kisses in perfect bliss following G1 Alabama victory

Eskimo Kisses was one cool and relaxed racehorse Sunday morning, the day after earning her first graded stakes victory in the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama with a thrilling last-to-first journey.

“She came back good with no problems,” said trainer Kenny McPeek. “She needed to run her ‘A’ game and she ran more than that. We were hoping for a fast pace and that they would kind of overlook us sitting back there. With her running style, it’s got to set up and you can’t make her do too much early or she won’t finish. I’m extremely proud of what she did.”

Eskimo Kisses, with Jose Ortiz following McPeek’s instructions perfectly, bided her time in last place, and took charge in the stretch for a 6 1/2-length win. Before the Alabama, the chestnut To Honor and Serve filly finished fourth in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks on July 22 in her first start since she was fourth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks on May 4.

“The Coaching Club Oaks was more of a fitness race for us,” said McPeek. “She needed to put some weight on her after the Kentucky Oaks. She had been running hard and traveling so I sent her over to my farm and we gave her some rest in the backyard of my farm for four to six weeks. She put on some weight and she came back great.”

McPeek is looking at the Grade 1 Spinster on October 7 at Keeneland for Eskimo Kisses’ next start. The Grade 1 Cotillion on September 22 at Parx Racing also is a possibility, he said.

“Anytime you can check a prestigious race like this off the list, it’s a good deal,” said McPeek of the Alabama. “I’m really proud of her and how she got it done. We’ll most likely target the Spinster. The Cotillion might be a little short for her, but we’ll let her tell us the best spot.”

Travers filly Wonder Gadot gets morning off, returns to track Monday

Gary Barber’s Wonder Gadot exited her final breeze for Saturday’s Grade 1 Travers in good order and will return to the track in the first set Monday morning, said trainer Mark Casse.

The 3-year-old filly by Medaglia d’Oro enjoyed an easy Sunday morning, her second walk day since breezing a four-furlong bullet in 47.60 seconds on Friday.

“She’s been very good. All is well,” said Casse. “We gave her today off – she just went around the shedrow – and she’ll go back tomorrow.”

Bred in Ontario, Wonder Gadot won the first two legs of Canada’s Triple Crown in dominating fashion over males this summer, but her connections opted to skip the third leg and target the Travers instead, where she will be the first filly since Davona Dale in 1979 to contest the Mid-Summer Derby. Davona Dale, named champion 3-year-old filly and later inducted in the Hall of Fame, finished fourth as the favorite that year.

Seven fillies have won the Travers in its 148-year history with the last being Lady Rotha, who was elevated to victory via disqualification in 1915.

A decision by Barber regarding the riding assignment for Wonder Gadot in the Travers is expected Monday. Casse mentioned Hall of Famer Mike Smith, Florent Geroux, and Tyler Gaffalione as possibilities for the call.

“She’s a sweetie about everything, but she does have a lot of energy,” Casse said of her racing style. “You kind of always have to slow her down.”

Also, despite Wonder Gadot’s redirection to the Travers, Casse still won his own Triple Crown on Saturday, with Chiefswood Stable’s Neepawa pulling away to a 3 ½-length victory in the in the Breeders’ Stakes over the turf at Woodbine.

“That was really nice, because I felt some mixed emotions [about sending Wonder Gadot to the Travers],” said Casse. “I felt a little bad that I could be letting Woodbine down and letting Canada down, so it was nice to win with that colt. Plus, the owners, Cheifswood, are just a super operation. So now, I’m happy that we’re here and we’re able to represent Woodbine with Wonder Gadot.”

The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds

More From The Pressbox Staff